Claims that skills shortages require massive increases in the migrant intake do not stand up to scrutiny, according to research released by Leith van Onselen, Chief Economist at MacroBusiness.

Employer groups and government members are angling to ramp up skilled migration to a huge 400,000 per year. This equates to around 3.5 times the long-term net overseas migration average (see Chart 1).

Despite decades of rapid immigration (Chart 1) whereby literally millions of foreign workers were imported into Australia, industry continue to make identical claims about chronic skills shortages.

The inconvenient truth is that the skills shortage claim has persisted for decades despite Australia running one of the largest immigration programs in the world.

Onselen’s report demonstrated more than 670 occupations listed as eligible for a ‘skilled’ visa, but there is no requirement that any of these occupations are experiencing a skills shortage.

This means that the visa system can be used by employers who wish to access foreign labour for an ulterior motive, such as to lower wage costs or to avoid providing training to Australian citizens.

Onselen’s Report backed up by previous research

For example, while Australia is purported to run a ‘skills-based’ migration program, the Productivity Commission’s (PC) 2016 Migrant Intake into Australia report explicitly stated that ‘skilled’ migrants make up only around half of the skilled stream and 30% of non-humanitarian migration:

“…within the skill stream, about half of the visas granted were for ‘secondary applicants’ — partners (who may or may not be skilled) and dependents…  while the skill stream has increased relative to the family stream, family immigrants from the skill and family stream still make up about 70 per cent of the Migration Programme”.

Furthermore, a Grattan Institute report (2019) found that Australia’s immigration system has gone from being skilled to low skilled over the past decade:

“Australia now has a predominantly low-skill migration system – particularly international students and working holiday makers…a big change from a decade ago when a much greater proportion of migrants were more skilled…low-skill migrants now comprise at least 10 per cent of the younger low-skill workforce”.

Young low skilled foreign migrants and students compete with Australian youth (15-24) for employment. Australian youth have experienced high unemployment rates over the past decade.

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